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“Distinctiveness” ~ Psalm 1

I.       Intro

A.    Visit to Chicago and saw gapers that stood out as obvious tourists.

B.     Many of us don’t like to stand out or to draw attention to ourselves.  We try to blend in with how we dress, how we talk, what we drive, who we hang out with.  Being noticed is not a comfortable place.

C.     However, God has given us a command to stand out.  Leviticus 20:26 says that “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”  And before you remind me that He is speaking to the Israelites of the Old Testament, the apostle Peter says the same thing to Christians of the New Testament in 1 Peter 1:16, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

D.    God wants us to stand out.  He wants us to be special and separate from the rest of the world.  He wants us to be distinct.  The question becomes, how do we accomplish that?  How do we show distinctiveness?

E.     As we finish up our time in the Psalms, I want to look at Psalm 1 for our answer.  We don’t know anything definitively about this psalm as far as who wrote it, when it was written or why.  We don’t have a background to it.  But that’s OK, we don’t need one.

F.      We do know that this psalm is called a Wisdom Psalm, that is, it presents two ways to live your life: one which God approves, and one which God does not approve.  In this way it is similar to the rest of what we call wisdom literature, which is Job, Proverbs, Ecc., and SOS. 

G.    Also, it is in a very special position in the Psalter.  It was placed specifically at the head of the book because it gives both an introduction to how we should approach the psalms, understanding the difference between righteousness and wickedness, and a summation of the teachings of the whole book. 

II.    A righteous person shows distinctiveness in his existence.  A person truly sold out for God sets himself apart from the ungodly in his lifestyle; in the way he lives.

A.    Our first description of how the righteous show distinctiveness is a negative comparison against the wicked, the sinners and the scoffers.  It’s important to understand that it is easier to notice someone for what they don’t do or do wrongly, rather than what they do right.

1.      The Lord as given us positive instructions – things that He desires us to do, but it is easier to be noticed for doing wrong than for doing right.

2.      For example, how much time do we spend telling our children when they screw up as opposed to when they get it right?

3.      When’s the last time you commended someone at a stoplight for driving the speed limit or properly using their turn signal?

B.     What does the righteous avoid doing?

1.      They avoid listening to wrong advice.  Verse one says that they walk not in the counsel of the wicked.

a.       The idea of walking here is interesting.  It connotes a temporary or fleeting time.  You don’t do it often, only once in a while.  And you don’t do it for long for a long time, but long enough.

b.      It’s interesting that Psalm 1 immediately follows the book of Job.  As I was preparing, it dawned on me that this described Job exactly.  Job said in 21:16 that the counsel of the wicked was far from him.  He maintained his righteousness because he did not listen to the council of those wicked around him.

c.       It’s like gossiping.  You don’t spend a lot of time in it, only every once in a while, and only around certain people.  But you follow the lead of those around you and begin knocking someone down a notch or two – which makes you feel good so you go back to it every now and again.  And it’s easy to do – everyone else is doing it – so they don’t judge you for it.

d.      It’s like the two of you meet on the sidewalk as you are walking along, but only briefly, before you turn left and the other person turns right.  That’s what the wicked do, that’s not what the righteous do.

2.      Also, they avoid lingering in the wrong way or standing in the way of sinners.  They avoid spending considerable time in the lifestyle of sinners.

a.       You do more than just listen to the wrong advice, you begin to live it out.  Their advice is now sounding pretty good to you so you choose to make it a habit. 

b.      Maybe your office gossip got someone fired and you promoted.  Maybe that extra “deduction” on your tax forms moved your vacation from Mt. Rushmore to Diamond Head Mountain on Oahu.

c.       So you start to do it more and more often, even finding ways to justify yourself to your parents, your spouse and even to God.

d.      It is no longer a casual stroll, but a more lengthy stand.

3.      Finally, they avoid living the wrong lifestyle or sitting in the seat of scoffers; making your dwelling with those actively against God.

a.       We have seen how what started as a casual stroll with someone, turned into a lengthy sit-down discussion and then with taking up permanent residence.  You have moved out of your house and changed the address on your license.  You are here to stay.

b.      What started out as seemingly harmless has become what you have chosen to do for your life. 

c.       You listened to a friend who encouraged you to skip church so you could go shipping or go to the game.  Then, because you had so much fun, it was easier to do it the next time the team was in town or the sale was on.  Pretty soon it was just easier to stay at home and hang out and you haven’t been to church since.

4.      The person who falls into these traps is no longer distinct from the ungodly people, in fact he is now one of them.

C.     It’s a bleak picture of what can happen when we take that first step on the slippery slope of sin; when we see how close to the edge we can get before we fall over.  It’s a dangerous place to be.

D.    Now here’s the positive side of how a righteous person shows distinctiveness, and it’s simple: he delights in the Word of God and in obeying His commands.

1.      He doesn’t do quiet time out of obligation or because his D/M group is going to ask about it – but it is a joy; a pleasure; a delight; something he looks forward to.  The Message says that he thrills to do it.  When is the last time any of us thrilled to read our Bible’s?

2.      It’s important to know that this delight comes from the inside, and shows itself its actions.  I’ll talk more about that in a little bit.

3.      He reads it constantly; meditates on it day and night. 

a.       Meditation is verbal, like lamenting.

b.      It’s like crying out to God – “What would you have of me today?”  “What promise do you have for me?”  “What assurance can you give me?”  “What can you show me of your glory and incomparable riches?”

c.       It’s inviting God out for coffee and a chat and you picking up the bill, because it’s your delight.

d.      It’s hiding His Word in your heart so that you might not sin against Him.

e.       It’s following it as a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.

f.       It’s setting ourselves  as distinct because of our joy in knowing and doing God’s Word because of who He is.  The perfect and holy Creator and Redeemer who has told us what is good and what He requires of us.

4.      Most importantly, it’s a lifestyle; something that is constant in our life.

5.      Illustration

a.       When Mahatma Gandhi was the spiritual leader of India, he was asked by some missionaries, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His reply was, “Christians.”

b.      To illustrate this, in his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days in England he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.  So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”

E.     The righteous set themselves apart as distinct in every aspect of their life.

III. A righteous person shows distinctiveness in his endurance.  It’s one thing to do isolated acts of righteousness and maintain your Bible reading for a time, it’s quite another to do them when times are tough.

A.    Here, the author offers us a simile in comparing the righteous man to a tree to show us one effect of living the righteous lifestyle.

1.      This is done elsewhere in Scripture as well.

2.      Jer. 17:7-8, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for it’s leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

3.      Psalm 92:12-14, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.  They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.”

B.     He tells us the tree is planted by streams of water.  This could be a reference to the River Jordan on Israel’s eastern border, but it more likely refers to irrigation canals that were created specifically for this tree.  This way his roots would always be immersed in the life-giving water, which is God’s Word, and constantly soaking it up.  Because of this, three things happen.

1.      First, he bears fruit.  At just the right time, when he is supposed to, he demonstrates the quality of his nature in the things that he does.

a.       In the same way an apple tree produces apples, and a date palm, dates (and not the other way around), a righteous person produces righteous fruit or actions.

b.      The things that he does, the words that he says, the thoughts in his mind will all be in accordance with what God wants because he has been immersed in His Word.

c.       He shows love and compassion when he needs to, disciplines and rebukes at the right time, serves joyously when called upon.  He understands the truth of Ecclesiastes 3 and puts it into practice.

d.      Regardless of what the counsel of the wicked is, he is always producing righteous fruit in its due season.

2.      Second, he does not fade or wither.  His faith endures.

a.       Where fruit represents works, the green leaves represent faith.  His faith remains strong whatever circumstance comes his way.

b.      As one author has said, “A tree that has lost its leaves, does not bring its fruit to maturity.”

c.       The righteous man’s faith endures the hard times, again, because he is rooted in the Word of God.

3.      Finally, he flourishes.  The end of v. 3 reads, “In all that he does, he prospers.”

a.       The things that he undertakes, he brings to a successful conclusion.  He is able to follow-through because of his unwavering faith, his well-timed deeds and his immersion in the Word of God.

b.      This however, is not a recipe for success.  Remember that this is wisdom poetry.  It is describing for us the general characteristics of the righteous person and not prescribing or guaranteeing material success in everything we do. 

c.       There will be some failures.  Prov. 24:16 says, “for the righteous man falls seven times and rises again.”  The endurance is seen in the rising again with the help of the Lord.  Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”

d.      It is the Lord that causes this success.  When Joseph was in jail in Gen. 39, two times the text tells us “and whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.”

e.       The righteous endure because they are rooted in God’s Word and are upheld by His hand in difficult times.

f.       What does the endurance of the wicked look like?

4.      The wicked man fails.

a.       They are the exact opposite.  Hear what Isaiah says in 1:30 about the wicked, “For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers.”

b.      Why?  Because they are like chaff.  Chaff is thin skin that encloses grains of wheat and gets removed by farmers in a process called threshing.  What the farmers would do was that they would find a high place that was pretty windy, create a flat, level floor, and then take their grains and throw them repeatedly up into the air.  The wind would blow that skin off of the grain and the heavier seed would fall to the threshing floor.

c.       That which had substance would fall to the earth, that which did not have substance would get driven away by the wind.  The chaff cannot endure the wind.

C.     Illustration:  Several years ago, my wife and I were in Ft. Myers, Florida on vacation and we went to the Thomas Edison Winter Estate and Museum.  It’s a great place that has reproductions of his botanical gardens, his laboratories and where he would hang out with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone as they tried to improve the way they made rubber for tires. 

1.      What struck me was that during the video presentations and in reading all the descriptive placards that nothing was ever invented on the first try. 

2.      Creating a successful alkaline storage battery took over 10,000 experiments. 

3.      Finding the right filament for the incandescent light bulb took over two years of tinkering with thousands of combinations to finally produce one that would last for 1500 hours. 

4.      But in the end, Edison succeeded in what he did, because of his perseverance and endurance.

IV. We have seen so far that righteous people show distinctiveness in two ways.  First, in the way they live their lives.  Second, in the way they endure hard times.

V.    The psalmist mentions a third way that the righteous man is distinct from the rest of the world.  It is in his eternity.

A.    Before I get into this point too much more, I want to pause and talk a little bit about righteousness.

1.      To be righteous, quite simply, is to be without sin.  It is a description of a person’s nature and being and is seen in their actions.  In the examples we’ve talked about, a person isn’t righteous because of their righteous deeds, it is because they are righteous that they produce righteous deeds.  We don’t call a tree an apple tree because it produces apple fruit.  It produces apple fruit because it is an apple tree.  The fruit simply help us identify what type of tree it is.  Being righteous speaks to a person’s nature.

2.      So how do we become righteous?  By having faith in God and in His ability to fulfill His promises.  Gen. 15:6 records that Abraham believed in God’s promise for numerous offspring even though he was very old, and God counted it to him as righteousness.  Habakkuk 2:4 says “The righteous shall live by faith.”  We must have faith.

3.      What promise specifically are we to have faith in?  That God can remove our sins through atonement.  And only God can do it.  Because our sins are against God, only God can forgive them.  And He does this with a blood sacrifice.  Lev. 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, or it is the blood that makes atonement for the life.”

4.      We are credited with righteousness when we have faith in God that He can remove our sins through a blood sacrifice.  And that is the basis for our relationship with God.  Because He is righteous and without sin, in order to be in relationship with Him, we need to be righteous as well.

B.     Therefore, because the wicked and ungodly do not have this righteous nature, and are like chaff, they will not be able to withstand God’s righteous and holy judgment.

1.      Their works, their decisions, their lifestyles and themselves will perish.  They will be destroyed and lost forever.

2.      However, the righteous will be distinct in their eternal fate.

C.     The Lord “knows” the life and nature of the righteous in a very intimate and personal way.  Since He is the one that bestows righteousness on a person, He is able to have a relationship with that person for all of eternity.

D.    But notice there is no middle ground.

1.      Just like there are only two people: the righteous and the unrighteous, there are only ways and only two eternal destinations: alive with God and destroyed apart from God.

E.     This whole psalm has been a study in contrast emphasized by the beginning word of “Blessed” and the final word of “perish”.  It shows that there is a clear distinction between the righteous and the righteous in their existence, their endurance, and in there eternity.

VI. Application

A.    So what can we do?

B.     The first thing is to become righteous. 

1.      Romans 3 says that none is righteous and that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.  It is a problem that all of us have.

2.      Romans 3 also says that God’s righteousness has been given through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

a.       Once for all, perfect sacrifice.

C.     Now that we have believed and are considered righteous in God’s eyes, we have to see how we are to live.

1.      The best way to do this is by reading your Bible.  Get involved in a Bible study, get involved in a Life Group.

2.      Know that this new life that you are living will not come easy.  There will be challenges and setbacks, but remember you can endure these hardships because the Lord God will hold your hand even though you might fall.

D.    As you are learning and growing and living, be confident that there is nothing you can ever do to lose your designation of righteousness. 

1.      Because is not based on our works, but on our faith and on God’s promise, we cannot undo it.  We may waver in faith, but God does not waver in His promises.

2.      Another promise of God is that when we come to faith we have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us.  He is given to us as a guarantee of our eternal future with Him (Read Eph. 1:13-14).  This same Holy Spirit helps us to live and guides us in righteousness.  So we need to call upon Him for this help.

3.      In addition, Jesus says in John 10:27-28 (read).

VII.          Conclusion

A.    God has called us to be holy; special, set apart, distinct from the rest of the world.  He wants us distinct so that He would receive the glory of saving sinners.  So that people would know that name of the Lord and believe in Him. 

B.     He has asked us who have believed and have been made righteous to show distinctiveness in our existence (the way we live our lives), our endurance (not fading or failing when times get tough) and in our eternity (knowing the hope we have in Him).

C.     Prayer

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